Laura thought she had the perfect existence.
After all, four suitors were vying for her hand in marriage. Of course, three of them were related, although it wasn’t clear if they were related to her or each other or some combination therein. (This is what happens when the same families live in the same small town, forever, and no one ever leaves to pursue the art of dance on Broadway or simply breathe fresh air that doesn’t taste like incest.) The fourth suitor, whose name was Bumpkin Washboard, was her Sunday School teacher. Bumpkin had previously shown no interest in Laura, until that fateful day when she bent over to retrieve her dropped hymnal and something primal clicked in Bumpkin’s fevered mind.
Laura had only borne three children out of wedlock, which was a record for her family. (All of the women in her genetic line tended to sleepwalk during the month-long Husking Festival, and salacious salad-making often ensued. Most folks looked the other way during said lettuce tossing, as all the young men in town (related or not) were rampant with abundant testosterone due to the vigorous nature of the shucking and pole-climbing competitions that were a centerpiece of the Festival. Besides, weren’t these young men (many of them on the high-school football team, despite being in their mid-20’s) doing the Lord’s Work by sharing their spillage with one and all? Of course they were. Blessed be.
Laura’s mercantile emporium, which she gained ownership of as the result of a murky livestock dispute, was one of the shining examples of commerce in the otherwise sleepy town. (A crossroads that was actually unincorporated and not really a legitimate town at all, according to the Census Bureau and arcane state law, but nobody understood what “incorporated” meant so they never tried to change it.) People would come from miles around just to ogle the wide array of offerings in said luxurious establishment. Laura offered three different brands of canned peas, a dizzying plethora of choice that often resulted in customers taking an entire afternoon to make a decision. (Said decisions were further delayed by the free samples of moonshine proffered by Laura’s brother, Hinky, at a special counter next to the goat-feed display.)
And, perhaps most importantly, Laura was the proud owner of a prize-winning gourd that had taken First Place at the Pawhuska County Jamboree. Said gourd had broken many records that had been unmatched for centuries, mainly because the man who was responsible for keeping the records had perished during an unfortunate threshing incident in 1789, and no one had bothered to fill the vacated post since then. Laura displayed the sacred gourd in a prominent position in her store, and it often drew more attention than the astonishing cornucopia of canned peas.
Yes, Laura had it all.
Then a travelling photographer waltzed into the store one day, lugging this fancy new thing called a “camera”, along with an “album” of images showing what people who didn’t live in Pawhuska County were doing with their lives. Laura and her homely and mostly-related entourage studied the photos, wherein people seemed to be happy doing anything but living in a small town, and they quickly came to the conclusion that perhaps they had not properly grasped the concept of a satisfying life. And it was at this point that the photographer captured his latest image…
Previously published, slightly modified for this post. In case you’re wondering, I just texted Laura to see how she was doing, considering the trauma and all, and she replied with an emoji that I have never seen before and never want to see again. I’m assuming that she’s still a wee bit bitter…